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Older Women in the Workplace

Volume 611: debated on Thursday 26 May 2016

Older women have a whole range of skills and experiences that are extremely valuable to employers and potential employers. We are publishing a new employer-led strategy later this year, which sets out how we can help people to have fuller working lives. We will continue to challenge outdated perceptions about older workers and actively promote the business benefits of employing them.

Does the Minister agree that the key issue for older women in employment is flexibility, as they very often face caring duties? Indeed, of all carers more than half are aged over 50 and they are disproportionately female.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why we have invested £1.7 million to look at the best ways to support carers to stay in employment, including exploring how businesses can give employees with caring responsibility more help through flexible working and setting up carers surgeries. We have extended the right to request flexible working, with more than 20 million workers now eligible.

Age discrimination remains a problem. I am delighted to hear the Government are taking the matter seriously, but what concrete steps can be taken to ensure that older women, who are increasingly important as the pension age increases, get the opportunities they deserve?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital that women are supported in returning to work following a break in their career. I recently attended the launch of the Barclays and Women’s Business Council “Comeback Toolkit”, which is a fantastic example of innovative working practices and inspirational case studies, such as their “Bolder Apprentice”, Lucille Galloway. She spoke passionately about how returning to a role in the workplace has transformed not only her life but the lives of those around her.

Does the Minister agree that 50 years ago women experienced far greater degrees of discrimination in the workplace, and that the impact of that discrimination is still affecting their prospects today? Does the Minister also agree that changes to the state pension age compound the difficulties and challenges women face?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that we have made great strides in gender equality, and I am incredibly proud of that. The average woman who reached state pension age in 2015 will get a higher state pension income over her lifetime than any woman who has reached state pension age at any point before her. We have legislated for an independent review every Parliament to ensure that any future changes are fair, affordable and sustainable, and that no one is unduly penalised.

Given that women are having children later in life, what thought has the Minister given to extending statutory paternity leave to six weeks to enable women to get back to employment more quickly?

We do want men to take the shared parental leave already available. The signs are that men are beginning to do that, but we need a cultural change to encourage men to take their share of shared parental leave.

I want to mention just one workplace. While it is perfectly right that someone in his late 70s should be a regular presenter on BBC television—he is younger than I am—can the Minister imagine a female of that age in the same position? Is that not a form of age discrimination by a public body?

I am obviously in favour of older male television presenters, particularly of news programmes, but absolutely we need many more female counterparts.

9. It is vital that the civil service shows leadership in this regard. In 2011, women finally achieved parity at the top of the civil service, but since the Prime Minister gave himself the power to choose the top jobs, he has painstakingly reassembled the glass ceiling, and now only 18% of permanent secretaries are women. Will Ministers commit to publishing the gender breakdown of all applicants and those shortlisted for the top jobs in the civil service? (905120)

This is a really important issue. Four of the permanent secretaries appointed in the last year are women, but we want more and that work will continue.